How To Know if a Red Light Camera Caught You

5 min read

When you are going through a traffic light, there is a point of no return. There are bound to be instances that make you wonder whether or not you ran a red light and got caught by the camera.

Continue reading to find out everything you need to know about red light cameras and how to know if one caught you.

How Red Light Cameras Work

Red light cameras help catch vehicles that run red lights by snapping photographs of them as they pass through the intersection. That sounds simple enough, right? But, the thing is, the cameras aren’t actually what tracks your car.

Contrary to what you might think, these cameras aren’t snapping pictures of vehicles all day and night. There are actually sensors installed in the road that does the tracking by triggering the camera to photograph your vehicle when you drive into the intersection and pass the stop line.

How the cameras photograph vehicles vary from state to state, Jeff Westover, a former Washington state police officer and owner of several 911 Driving Schools in Washington, told Reader’s Digest.

“Washington state law prohibits a picture or video of the face of the driver, so the violations recorded in Washington state are all of the rear of the vehicle,” Westover said. However, “other states may differ and have a view of the driver of the vehicle.”

How To Spot a Red Light Camera

To avoid getting caught in the first place, you need to learn how to spot red light cameras. The first thing to look for is a flash. “Most red-light cameras flash even during the day. This feature aims to stop or slow down moving cars,” Continental Camera wrote on its website.

The next thing you need to know is what a red light camera actually looks like — aside from the flash of light. According to an article published by Ticket Snipers, red light cameras come in different sizes and designs, but most of them come in large, square, silver or white boxes with the flash installed beneath the box.

Others have the flash installed inside the box. Still, others may have the camera and flash in the same casing. The more updated versions look similar to CCTV cameras. They are usually installed in silver poles close to the intersection or are attached to existing street light poles.

Another way to spot a red light camera is to look for signs warning you that you’re approaching one. Some municipalities will post these signs at 50 to 500 feet from the signal. Lastly, you’ll want to keep an eye out for extra red lines painted on the street, which serve to let you know that you’ve violated the red light.

Red light cameras are not as common as you think. That’s because they are very expensive to install. As a result, most jurisdictions only install them in their most dangerous intersections — in other words, those with a high percentage of crashes due to violations.

In bustling urban areas, 15% or more of traffic lights may have a camera installed. That number is likely not as high as you thought it would be, right?

Get this: There may not even be any red light cameras installed at all in rural areas, which typically don’t have much heavy traffic. You’ll still want to be careful, though, because you never know when an officer may be hiding in an area that’s hard for you to see them but easy for them to spot you.

How To Know You’ve Been Caught by a Red Light Camera

In most cases, you will notice one or several flashes when your vehicle gets photographed. You can miss it, though, if you’re not paying close attention. “This is because the latest cameras use an infra-red flash that can be hard to notice,” Ticket Snipers wrote on its website.

Another way to know you have been caught is when you get a ticket in the mail. “Typically, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for each state will send a red light camera ticket via postal mail based on the registration information that is associated with the license plate,” David Reischer, Esq., Traffic Law Attorney at, told Reader’s Digest. Still, some municipalities have apps that will contact you via email or text message to inform you of the violation.

Sometimes you can be caught by a red light camera and not be punished for it because the law enforcement officer who reviewed the evidence captured by the system decided to dismiss the violation due to certain circumstances — for example if your car just passed the sensor when the light turned red, but it did not enter the intersection. In this case, you would never even know that you had been caught.

What To Do Once You’ve Been Caught

The first thing to do is review the violation on the printed notice and via the internet (video and still photos will be available). You may be able to arrange a meeting with an officer to review and discuss the evidence. In some cases, you may even be able to arrange a court date for the evidence to be heard.

The next step is to pay the ticket as soon as possible. Once you receive it, you’ll have a limited time in which to pay it. If you don’t, it may get sent to collections. Whatever happens really depends on the laws of the state and jurisdiction in which the violation occurred.

For example, if you were in Florida when the violation occurred, but you’re an out-of-state driver, you might not face the same consequences as local drivers. That’s because Florida doesn’t have the right to suspend licenses issued by other states.

So, what happens if you got a ticket in the mail, but you weren’t the one driving the car? Well, if this is the case in your situation, you would need to notify the proper individual(s) and supply them with the name of the person who was actually behind the wheel at the time the violation occurred.

Depending on where you live, you may need to take additional steps. In Seattle, for example, you would also need to print and return a declaration of non-responsibility — a sworn statement that the vehicle was not in your care, custody or control at the time of the violation — to the Seattle Municipal Court by the due date shown on the notice you received in the mail.

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